WWOOF UK’s IT support contractor, Chris Cant, as well as practising technological magic at a high level and being the editor’s digital hero, is a committed volunteer and grower. This year, on his home turf of the Eden Valley in Cumbria, he has been closely involved with a new initiative intended to introduce novice growers to more experienced folk by VEG-ing out. Where VEG stands for Visit Edible Gardens! We asked him to tell us more …
I worked in association with a local environmental group, Penrith Action for Community Transition, and we carried out some research that showed people felt they lacked the skills and knowledge to start growing, so this summer we launched VEG – a free programme of events to help them learn from other growers. We recruited talented growers willing to open their veg patches up to the public for a day, so that novices could come along and pick up knowledge and tips.
The VEG events let people see what it’s possible to grow in our Cumbrian climate – even in small spaces. We’ve had six events so far with more planned, from a new veg patch in a small town garden to high-altitude growing on the fellside. The growing season in Cumbria can be a month behind the rest of the country and varies considerably according to your height above sea level. Raised beds can fit in the smallest spaces in town. Some crops work anywhere, like asparagus kale, one of my favourites, and tatties growing in strong plastic bags. In polytunnels we’ve seen sweetcorn growing and competition parsnips in drain pipes!
The feedback we had from attendees was very good and they certainly appeared to take inspiration from the events. We feel really encouraged by the response and are planning to run another programme next year as well as a one day growing course in September this year. We’ve had some funding to support this project, including some from the Big Lottery, and the support of local organisations.
As well as the VEG programme we also looked at some of the things that hold people back from trying to grow fruit and veg, and we felt that if we could make it as easy and cheap as possible for people to get the things they need to get started, it might make a difference. So we created a new gardening sub-group on our local Freegle (the online reuse group) last year.
Nearly 400 people have used the new gardening category for exchanging tools, seeds, plants, pots and other items to help them grow more – there have even been greenhouses changing hands. Others have been handing on surplus produce such as rhubarb and apples.
There’s a short film about VEG at www.penrithact.org.uk/veg. If anyone would like to try running a similar VEG programme, Chris would be happy to pass on what he’s learnt. Just contact us using email@example.com and we’ll put you in touch.